Behind me, Marcus bellowed orders. In long formation, every third squad is archers, but they would have no room in the cleft. Other than his fading shouts and the movement of men in light marching kit, there was no sound. I learned then that Never-born fight as they march, in rarely broken silence.
The smilodon met my eye, and sprang upward from its crouch.
The ranger named Meno stepped between us. It was his sword that had cleared its scabbard. I never thought of mine till the battle was long over. I probably would have dropped it or tangled it in my belt.
But even Meno had no opportunity. I had said that the smilodon leapt from thirty feet away – but that, dear reader, was only one leap. It was on Meno like the wind, like a rage, like the fire that becomes explosion. A forepaw caught his head, another his shoulder. All the weight and force of the smilodon came against his chest. The air whooshed from his lungs, and when he fell there was a sickening crunch. I had put up my hands in a foolish gesture to protect my face. There came the tang of blood again, and that smell that means men have voided bowels and bladder. A hand came from behind to grasp my neck, urged down.
And then some sledge, some boulder, some great fist of god smashed my left elbow against my chest. My head whipped back, and I fell against whatever soldier of the Never-born had come up from behind. I glimpsed swords to my right and above, black against the sky, short in the style of the old city guard. Marcus bellowed further orders. The smilodon snarled again. And, just as I regained my balance in an awkward crouch, whirled and leapt away, favoring its right front leg. Arrows ticked against the rocks where it had been: one, two, three. They seemed very, very slow.
A hand caught beneath my arm, lifted me. There came a voice. “Stand. The storm will kill you too.”